Perhaps you know the feeling, you have to get up in front of a group of people to speak. Maybe it’s an important event like a graduation, or giving a toast at your best friend’s wedding reception, or even just sharing a bit of information about yourself in front of a class. Your heart starts pounding, your palms are sweating, and you feel those butterflies in your stomach.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Lots of people feel this way. The technical term for it is glossophobia, which means speech anxiety. According to Wikipedia, it comes from the Greek words glossa (meaning tongue) and phobos (fear or dread). Many people have only this fear, while others may also have social phobia or social anxiety disorder. Sometimes with practice it can get easier over time, but for others (like me) those feelings never completely go away.
You’re probably familiar with some of the techniques that have been touted for years, such as picturing your audience in their underwear, or deep breathing techniques. But now the business school at American University in Washington has come up with a new way to help calm those butterflies — audience dogs.
What are audience dogs you may wonder? They are a group of pet volunteers whose job is to be attentive, nonjudgmental sounding boards for folks who are experiencing nerves about upcoming speaking engagements that they will be performing in front of actual humans.
This program is the first of its kind in the nation. The current group of audience dogs consists of eight canines in the area with no special skills, they are average dogs who simply have the ability to sit attentively and listen.
Of course it’s long been recognized that dogs can have a calming effect on humans. Just look at all of the amazing skills that therapy dogs have.
Today there are many programs in schools where children read to therapy dogs. Not only do dogs in the classroom help children improve their reading skills, they can also lift spirits and cause a calming effect and diffuse stressful situations. Especially if kids lack self-confidence about their reading skills, pets can help boost their confidence while reducing anxiety.
Many kids have difficulty reading in front of others because they are scared of being judged or made fun of if they make a mistake. Reading to a dog helps take away that fear because the child will focus on the animal and not on themselves, it helps them to relax and boosts their reading performance.
So it makes perfect sense that practicing a speech in front of dogs first can have the same calming effect on a speaker. While more studies need to be done to prove the effectiveness of the audience dog program at AU, according to the students who have participated so far they have noticed a big decrease in nervousness. And the more practice you can get before your actual speaking engagement the better, so why not practice in front of an audience of dogs?
Okay, I’ll admit it, I talk to my dogs all the time, and of course they are an attentive audience because they are usually the only ones at home with me. If you have a dog or any other pet, I’m sure you talk to them too. It’s alright, we all do it.
So the next time you are getting ready to speak in front of a group of people, perhaps you can practice in front of Fido and see what kind of reaction you get.
Do you feel like your pets listen when you talk to them? Please feel free to share your story.